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SOUTH SIOUX CITY -- Five area nurses were honored for their excellence, caring nature and dedication to the profession during a Sioux City Journal-hosted event, presented by CNOS, at the Delta Hotels by Marriott in South Sioux City. 

"Nurses: The Heart of Health Care Awards, presented by CNOS," was held in conjunction with National Nurses Week. More than 90 nursing professionals were nominated by Journal readers, and a five-person judging panel chose four honorees, with the fifth chosen by readers. 

The honorees were: Charmaine Cantrell, of MercyOne Air Care and Dakota Dunes Surgical; Tisha Dumkrieger, of Holy Spirit Retirement Home; Loree Steffen, of CNOS; Nancy Treft, of Sioux City Community Schools; and Cindy Vaughn, of Burgess Health Center. 

Cantrell, a nurse with 41 years of experience, was inspired to become a nurse because of her Aunt Pat, who was an ER nurse for 50 years at the hospital now called MercyOne. 

While accepting her award, Cantrell told the story of her son, who was paralyzed in a motorcycle accident in 2001. Five years ago, he got into a four-wheeler accident and she was a member of his care team. 

"I was happy, because I knew I could take care of him, and I knew his spasms and all that," she said. "I was good until he said to me, 'Mom, I love you,' and then that did it.'" 

Dumkrieger held back tears as she described the challenges of working in a nursing home -- in particular, the pain of losing her patients. To help the families feel better after the death of a loved one, she said she often tells them stories of the time she spent with them. 

"Just trying to make light of things, like telling them a funny story that they never thought their parents would do," Dumkrieger said. "They're like, 'Thank you for sharing that.'" 

She works late nights -- nights, she said, which are made easier by her supportive coworkers. 

"There's some nights when I'm just so busy, and my CNA upstairs, she'll get me a cup of coffee and bring it down for me, and I'm just really lucky that I have great people that I work with," she said through tears. 

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Steffen, a nurse of 34 years experience, said she was inspired to become a nurse by the late 1960s sitcom "Julia," starring Diahann Carroll as the nurse protagonist. 

"In all honesty, I used to sit with my mom, and we'd watch it every single week," Steffen said. 

For the past two years, Steffen has taken part in a program delivering healthcare to the homeless in Sioux City. 

"We just deliver care the best that we can -- a lot of first aid, a lot emotional support, but more than likely, we're just being there for them," she said. 

Treft, a school nurse, who's been in the profession 36 years, said she originally planned to be an accountant, but she "married one instead." 

She never regretted becoming a nurse. The job of a school nurse, she said, has changed since the days when it was all Band-Aids and kids faking ailments to get out of classes. Many children now have more serious, chronic maladies, requiring more intensive care than in the past. 

"A lot of children come with more complex health needs," she said. Treft says that for some students, she is the only healthcare provider they see. 

When she got on stage, Vaughn, the reader's choice and a 39-year nurse, joked that her heart was racing on stage: "I need a nurse!" 

Vaughn said she feels especially passionate about taking care of patients faced with a terminal illness. 

"They need us the most, I feel, and we need to be very compassionate not only with them but with the families," she said. "And that is my passion, to be there for them at the end of life." 

A special section about the winners will appear in the Sunday edition of the Journal. 

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